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Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Court’s Errors in Imposing Postrelease Control Could Not Be Corrected 10 Years Later

A claim by either the offender or the prosecutor that a trial court made a mistake when imposing postrelease control must be challenged on direct appeal, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

In a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors have the same restrictions as criminal  defendants when it comes to challenging errors in imposing postrelease control sanctions. Writing for the Court majority, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor stated  when an error in imposing postrelease control benefits the defendant, the prosecutors have the burden of appealing the error on direct appeal. Direct appeals generally must be submitted 30 days after the verdict.

Although Robert Bates was sentenced to prison by the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in 2008, the county prosecutor’s office did not notice until 2018 that Bates’ sentencing entry on the trial court journal failed to include all the required advisements to impose postrelease control. Over Bates’ objections, the trial court corrected the sentence.

The Supreme Court today vacated the trial court’s 2018 sentencing entry to the extent that it imposed five years of postrelease control supervision upon Bates. However, the Court took “judicial notice” that after Bates was released from prison, he was convicted of new felony offenses in 2019 and is now in prison until at least 2027.

Justices Michael P. Donnelly, Melody J. Stewart, and Jennifer Brunner joined the chief justice’s opinion.

In separate dissenting opinions, Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and R. Patrick DeWine maintain the trial court did not make errors when sentencing Bates in 2008, so it had the authority under state law to correct the written sentence entry imposing postrelease control.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer also dissented by joining a portion of Justice DeWine’s dissent.

Sentencing Error Challenged
In 2008, Bates was sentenced to a nine-year prison term for kidnapping, rape, and robbery. The crimes required the trial court impose mandatory postrelease control sanctions on Bates. Bates later maintained that at the sentencing hearing, the trial court failed to advise him of the consequences of violating postrelease control sanctions. A few days later, the trial court documented the sentence in the court journal entry, stating, “Post release control is part of this prison sentence for 5 years for the above felony(s) under R.C. 2967.28.”

Bates filed a direct appeal challenging his conviction, but neither he nor the prosecutor at that time challenged the postrelease control portion of the sentence. The Eighth District Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction, and the Supreme Court declined to review that case.

As Bates was closing in on release, the trial court conducted a classification hearing in 2018 to determine Bates’ sexual-predator status. At the hearing, the prosecutor notified the court that he had reviewed Bates’ original sentencing entry and discovered the entry did not include required notifications about the mandatory nature of the sanction and the consequences for violating postrelease control.  The prosecutor told the trial court he believed the entry needed to be corrected before Bates was released from prison. The court then advised Bates of his postrelease obligations and the consequences of violating them. The court included that information in a new sentencing entry.

Correction Challenged Amid Change in Law
Chief Justice O’Connor explained that under R.C. 2967.28(B), prison sentences for certain felonies include a mandatory period of postrelease control be imposed by the state parole board after the offender is released. At the sentencing hearing, the trial court must notify the offender of the mandatory supervision. The court must also notify the offender that the parole board may impose a prison term of up to one-half of the originally stated prison sentence for a violation of the postrelease control conditions.

In its 2017 State v. Grimes decision, the Court explained that once a trial judge orally provides the required advisements at the sentencing hearing, they must be incorporated into the written sentencing entry to validly impose postrelease control. Under the court’s previous jurisprudence, if a trial court failed to validly impose postrelease control, that portion of the sentence was considered void and subject to correction at any time before the offender was released.

Bates challenged the 2018 correction of his sentence. The Eighth District relied on prior Supreme Court decisions and concluded that the postrelease control portion of Bates’ sentence was void, and the trial court could correct it.  

Bates appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to consider his case. Shortly after accepting the case, the Court issued rulings in State v. Harper and State v. Hudson. In those cases, the Court ruled the invalid imposition of postrelease control renders that part of the sentence voidable and it could only be challenged on direct appeal.

“The court cautioned that this holding would apply to both the state and the defendant,” Chief Justice O’Connor wrote.

Burden on Prosecutor to File Direct Appeal
The opinion explained that the Court “made clear in Harper, and again in Hudson, that prosecuting attorneys and defense counsel throughout Ohio are “now on notice that any claim that the trial court has failed to properly impose postrelease control in the sentence must be brought on appeal” or the sentence will be barred. 

“The party aggrieved by a court’s error in imposing postrelease control must challenge it on direct appeal,” the opinion stated.

The opinion explained the trial court’s errors in imposing postrelease control favored Bates, and the prosecutor was the aggrieved party. Because the prosecutor did not raise the issue on direct appeal in 2008, the correction to Bates’ sentence in 2018 was barred, the opinion stated.

“[T]he trial court’s 2018 sentencing entry was improper and, therefore, of no effect,” the Court concluded.

Entry Correction Proper, Dissent Maintained
Justice Kennedy noted that R.C. 2929.19 requires the trial court to notify the offender of the details of postrelease control and the consequences for violating it at the sentencing hearing. The statute does not require the notice be incorporated into the sentencing entry, her dissent stated.

If a court provides the proper postrelease control oral notifications to the offender but does not incorporate them into the sentencing entry, the court has the authority to correct the entry, the dissent maintained.

Justice Kennedy noted that while Bates claimed he did not receive the proper oral notification, he did not provide a trial transcript as part of his appeal. Without the transcript, the Eighth District and the Supreme Court had to presume the trial court did provide the proper notification. The original sentencing entry “was not silent on postrelease control,” the dissent noted, indicating the court stated it would be “part of this prison sentence for 5 years.”

The trial court has the authority to correct a deficiency in its sentencing entry if it properly provided the required notices, the dissent maintained. Because at the time he appealed the case, Bates did not show the trial court had not properly advised him of the sanctions, then the court had the authority in 2018 to correct the written notice and impose postrelease control, the dissent concluded.

Majority Ignored Statutes in Favor of Judge-Made Law, Dissent Asserted
In his dissent, Justice DeWine wrote that this case would be easily resolved if the Court simply applied the statutes governing the imposition of postrelease control. Those statutes require only that an offender be verbally notified of the terms of his postrelease control sanction at his sentencing hearing. 

“The notion that postrelease control must be imposed in a sentencing entry is completely judge-made law,” Justice DeWine explained.

Even if the trial court fails to comply with the “judicially manufactured standards” created by the court in Grimes, R.C. 2929.191(C) allows the trial court to hold a hearing and issue a corrected judgment entry containing postrelease control information, the dissent stated. The trial court therefore had the authority to issue a revised entry in Bates’ case in 2018, Justice DeWine stated.

The dissent further noted that under the law, the failure of a trial court to advise an offender of his postrelease control obligations at the sentencing hearing does not affect the ability of the Adult Parole Authority to place an offender on postrelease control after he is released from prison.  Because Bates remained subject to postrelease control, he was the party harmed by any purported defects in the trial court’s advisement in 2008 and it was his responsibility to appeal those errors at that time, Justice DeWine concluded.

The dissent also stated that the majority’s conclusion that the state must appeal any defect in an offender’s postrelease control advisement “directly contradicts” the Court’s recent decisions in Harper and Hudson, which had indicated that the burden was on the defendant to appeal such omissions. While those decisions brought clarity to this confusing area of the law, Justice DeWine wrote that with today’s decision, “the majority seems determined to put Ohio courts right back in the same soup.”

2020-0255. State v. Bates, Slip Opinion No. 2022-Ohio-475.

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